I bought a guy a beer. Can pastors do that?

Posted: July 24, 2010 
Filed under: Deep Thoughts with Pastor Jeff, Jeff, Pastor Jeff, Spiritual
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I dislike alcohol on airlines for the same reason I dislike alcohol at sporting events. Eventually someone with a drink will get jostled and I end up going home smelling like a brewery. The guy in the row behind me at the baseball game will inevitably jump up to cheer and forget he has a beer in his hand/lap. It flies through the air and douses me with the blend of lite beer and pretzel-laden saliva that had been inside the cup. This happened at almost every Cubs game I’ve attended, and one Blackhawks game (hockey). This is especially troubling when you’re there with a church group and it’s one of the other pastors who repeatedly spills his beer on you.

An airplane is similar because they give people beverages, then expect movement to occur. The chance of turbulence is in direct proportion to me trying to sip from my cup of Dr. Pepper at any given moment. This is also why I carry my own straw onto a plane. However, no matter how careful I am, the passenger seated next to me always seems to feel the need to hold his drink to his side, just over my lap. This helps protect his laptop computer should we experience a drink-spilling moment of turbulence.

Getting an alcoholic beverage spilled on you during a flight is much more problematic than having it occur at a ball game. You can always say to the person seated next to you on the train (or the police who pulls you over) that you reek of alcohol because you’ve just come from a ball game. They’ll understand, give you a knowing nod, and let you go your way. But, go up to the rental car counter at an airport smelling like a case of Bud Lite and they’ll have you take a sobriety test before giving you the keys.

I was belted into my window seat on a recent flight back from Illinois (actually flying out of St. Louis) and a guy sat between myself and the older woman who had the aisle seat. We exchanged pleasant greetings, then proceeded to go about our separate business – my working on a sermon, he playing a game on his iPhone. Shortly after departure the stewardess flight attendant took drink orders. The lady on the end orders a juice. I order a Dr. Pepper informing the flight attendant I already have a straw and snap-on lid for the cup (because all airlines use the standard wide-mouth cup). The gentleman in the middle ordered a beer. We had some inter-seat dialogue and he asked me if I was a missionary. He wondered because he’d seen me working out of a Bible. I explained I was a pastor working on my sermon for the following Sunday. The stewardess flight attendant returned with our beverage orders.

Now, here’s the deal. I don’t drink alcohol. It’s a mixture of health, taste and moral reasons. Can you imagine my obsessive-compulsive behaviors uninhibited by a couple drinks? Plus, I don’t like the taste of the stuff. As a pastor, I choose not to have that as a cause for anyone else to struggle, so I don’t imbibe. But I did get a coupon for a free alcoholic beverage with my plane ticket. Did I also mention I don’t drink because it costs a lot of money? I can’t believe some people go out and spend as much on drinks as they do on a meal. Needless to say, I’m not going to shell out my money for someone’s beer. The stewardess flight attendant said she would return for the guy’s payment for his drink. I reached into my bag and pulled out that coupon. I told the guy what it was and that he was welcome to have it. The stewardess flight attendant came back. He gave her the coupon and all was well. Then, he got up to use the bathroom. (Plane bathrooms are a whole other post.)

After Mr. Middle-Seat had excused himself, the lady leaned over to say something to me. “Don’t you think it’s wrong for a pastor to buy a beer for an alcoholic?” Yes, I do. I missed the part about him being an alcoholic. They didn’t know one another prior to this flight, so I asked how she knew he was an alcoholic. Her reply? “Because he’s drinking alcohol.” OK. Pastor guilt kicked in and I questioned what I did. (Keeping in mind the fact this woman assumed everyone who drinks one beer is an alcoholic.)

I go back to the words of Paul the apostle in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23
19 Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.  20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.  21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.  22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.  23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

Here’s my the deal from my perspective. Paul had an excellent grasp of what it means to reach people with God’s love, and he was a guy with a legalistic background. But, he knew he could hang with people who didn’t know Christ, and obviously live like and make choices like people who don’t have a relationship with God. He could get together with those people who didn’t live under the law, but it didn’t make him forget that he was still under Christ’s law. He didn’t change his moral choices by hanging out with sinners. He knew he needed to remember exactly who he was, but he could do that and hang with people needing to see Christ’s love. It can be dangerous to hang out with people who make moral choices opposed to yours, especially in areas of your life where you struggle anyway. Dirty rubs off on clean. Clean doesn’t rub off on dirty. You should guard yourself from those who will influence you negatively. But, as long as I’m firm in my convictions, I can share God’s love with those who are different without fear of being compromised.

I’ve not always felt this way. I’ve spent many years living in legalistic restraints trying to prove to God that I can be good enough for Him to love. That doesn’t attract anyone to God because at our core we all know we can’t be good enough to please God. It’s only by living in grace that I even hope to come off as an attractive commercial for Christ. This perspective has freed me to have friendships with people who are radically different from me. I’m blessed to have friends who make moral choices with which I disagree. It doesn’t mean I love them less. And, if you’re one of those people…Thanks. Thanks for being my friend and stretching me in love. I’m glad you’re in my life. However, I probably won’t buy you a beer.

I would make an exception in my personal alcohol choice. I would drink with the pilot flying the plane. After all, if the guy flying the plane isn’t sober, I don’t want to be either!

The Unexamined Life and All,

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